Rapid Recap: Illini fall to Gophers, drop third straight

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+fights+for+the+ball+with+Minnesotas+Akeem+Springs+%280%29+during+the+game+against+Minnesota+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+4.+The+Illini+lost+68-59.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) fights for the ball with Minnesota’s Akeem Springs (0) during the game against Minnesota at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 4. The Illini lost 68-59.

By Lucas Wright, Staff Writer

Even with a packed house and the Chicago Cubs World Series trophy in the building, the Illinois basketball team couldn’t grind out a win over the Minnesota Gophers, falling 68-59.

While the Illinois defense put up a decent showing against the Gophers, holding them to 37.5 percent, ultimately it was the poor Illini offense that made the difference. The usual constants weren’t there for Illinois, with Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan and Jalen Coleman-Lands each having dismal nights from the floor. The trio combined for 11-for-41 from the floor and 25 points.

A surprise for Illini fans was the high-caliber play of forward Kipper Nichols off the bench. Nichols played mainly in place of Hill, who picked up his second foul just minutes into the game. Nichols poured in 13 points in the first half in 12 minutes on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the field. Nichols finished with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with six rebounds in 23 minutes.

Nichols led a strong campaign for the Illinois bench, which scored 19 in the first half accounting for more than half of the team’s total.

The second half showed the Illini team we have seen over the past month, an inconsistent offensive and weak defensive unit, which dug a 10-point hole in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Minnesota run sucked the life out of the State Farm Center and all but ended Illinois.

The Illini managed to claw within six late in the game, but Illinois missed chances to cut the lead to one possession on multiple occasions. Minnesota hit the big shots when they mattered, burying Illinois by nine.

Hill finished with 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting and Morgan added a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The loss dropped the Illini to 3-3 in home conference games, and 3-8 overall in conference play.

[email protected]

@LucasWright95